Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 November 2017

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Hebrews 13, verse 7.

As I’ve matured, I’ve developed a great admiration for people who are bold in the Word.  Over thirty years ago, I went to a Billy Graham crusade in Washington DC.   Now, I’m not a Southern Baptist and I find some of their methods to be grating.  My upbringing was far from the kind of approach Baptists and Billy Graham commonly use.  When I was a kid, every few months a Billy Graham crusade would take over one of our three channels of TV and I found it to be hard, boring to watch.   It was ironic, then, that I found myself there that day, listening to Rev Graham exhort the crowd to come to Jesus.   It was even more ironic that I found myself compelled by the things he said.  I met Dr. Graham and I was moved, but not moved enough to seriously consider the things he was saying.  It took me decades before I would come around to Graham’s way of thinking.

The older I grow the more I see the truth in Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations.  Our first, best task in this life is to reach out to other people and share Jesus.   EVERYTHING we experience in the next life depends on knowing Him here.  We do our part by living our lives, being ourselves, and being ready to communicate when the opportunities arise.   Even including the fire and brimstone sermons, I’m betting Billy Graham would agree.

I was baptized by a pastor named Reuben Youngdahl, who built the largest Lutheran church in America.   I remember well his son, Paul, who is still the benchmark against whom I measure all clergy.   Reverend Ann Haw confirmed me in Oklahoma and she’s one of the most courageous workers for the Spirit I can think of.  Dr. Guy Newland back in Mitchell, Indiana was the most genuine minister I’ve ever known and the one who, at least in my life, convinced me that faith should be an everyday, practical thing instead of that thing you do on Sundays.   Pastors named Vogt and Uhlhorn in Colorado Springs taught me the depth of faith, and Pastor Vogt’s reading of Romans 8 on the night my father died was actually the first time in my life that I fully understood how all the Scriptures were completely true.   I’ve learned much from the wisdom of my friend, Reverend Gauthier, and men named Schaefer, Miller, McKay, Brimer, Kemp, Celia, Radkey, Kaija and Hartjen all inspire me today as peers, friends, and spiritual guides in the confusing, self-focused world of consumerist North Texas.

We put a lot of faith in our pastors, but do we put as much into the God they serve?

The verse today reminds us to learn from and revere called servants of the Lord.   God picked them out especially for the purpose of being Barnabas – the encourager – to people in need of an encouraging Savior.  They have a special calling and unique education to prepare them for the task of ministering.  We do well when we remember that it’s a Godly calling to life a life of faith, of submitting even our aspirations and career wishes to God.  That’s what they do.   It’s also tough work.  Successful churches aren’t the ones with the cool sound systems, the huge congregations, and the rock band in front playing the latest Chris Tomlin mash-up.   No, successful churches are the ones where the parishioners know they’re close to Jesus because Jesus is close to them.   In such places, that usually starts with the pastor.   If you look close, you find that the pastor is simply walking closely with Jesus and all blessings flow from Him.

Yet we can’t think of our pastors as being supermen because they aren’t.   They are sinners.   They’re strugglers.   They like football and beer and music and barbecue (or queso).   Some of them are jerks.  I know some pastors who are recovering alcoholics.   I know some who have done jail time.   I know of some who struggle with identity, sexuality, and crushing depression.   And I’ve known some pastors who I liked in the pulpit but I couldn’t stand out of it.

In other words, pastors are a lot like me.   Or you.

Just yesterday, Pastor Celia (which still sounds weird) was talking about Gideon.   Gideon was an ordinary, even cowardly, man who was called by God to do extraordinary things.   Gideon had the gifts God needed and God empowered him to use them in big ways.   Yet Gideon was also just a man.   He succeeded when he walked closely with God and he floundered when he strayed back into paganism.  I suspect that, like other pastors, if you met Gideon today you’d find he wore his pants the same way as you or I do.   Or Billy Graham, who is 99 now and no longer preaching in crusades.   In his life, he personally witnessed to millions of people, maybe even as many as a billion.   Yet he still says he could do more.   He’s still hungry for the Spirit.   That’s a good quality to have if you’re going to become a pastor.  In fact, it’s a great quality for any of us.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:16, Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 6:12.

My Lord, I am hungry for Your Spirit.  Thank You for the men and women you call as servants here.   Bless their work and their examples to all of us.


Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 March 2017

 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.  Hebrews 9, verses 9-10.

It’s just blood; it’s just water; it’s just wine and bread; they’re just words.   They are…and they aren’t.   That’s a mystery of the Christian faith, that the elements of our sacraments are both what the secular world says they are while also, at the same time, being exactly what God determines they are for their set-aside uses.   When you figure it out, please notify theologians all across the globe.   Differences about these things seem to be at the root of many, maybe most, of the ecclesiastical rubs throughout history.   In my mom’s town in southeast Oklahoma, there (literally) are First, Second, and Third Baptist Churches in the same small town (as well as dozens of other churches) that all began as a larger, single church many years ago.   The reason for the split?   Differences in what people believe about holy communion and the shape of the sanctuary (yes, I said the shape of the building).

Stupid.   Words mean things, and yet they don’t.   It’s the heart behind the words – the intended meaning – that gives words power.   It’s that heart with which God is most concerned, even as He also has His eye on us when we misuse the gift of language.   Perhaps the best guide we could each use in watching our words is to think with the heart, thinking while trying to use God’s perspective.  When we do that, we realize something:   we don’t have to be right.   Yesterday, Will Kemp, my pastor friend, brought up that very point.   We don’t have to be right; we don’t have to have the last word.   We can and should listen.  We can and should watch our words with caring intent to build each other up.

I stink on ice at this concept.   It’s one of my weak areas, one of the devil’s favorite attack points in my life.   Pride, arrogance, insecurity, bullying, whatever:   every pet sin of the moment causes me to want the last word, and I fall to it regularly.   It’s hard for me to remember that words mean things even as I write thousands of them daily.  As a result, I’m a hypocrite.   I say one thing and do another far more than I wish I had to admit, but it’s true.  This isn’t an excuse, just a statement of the way things are.

I suppose it’s something of a stretch to bind these Hebrews verses to the idea of pride, yet there is this related tie.  Our words from don’t carry the gravity, the life, that they could if only we spoke them through Jesus.  Food and drink are only food and drink if we eat them apart from communion.   Words in a blog, email, or letter are just words unless we use them to edify others and increase God’s glory.  Some words can be ordinary but important, and some others can immediately and always carry great weight.   All of them should be used to the glory of God.  Some meals are just fuel for the body but others mean something much more.   You get the idea.  Whatever we say or do, say or do it with God in the lead.

What’s more, the other important tie to remember is that the new covenant has replaced the old ones.   My words, though uttered, are a thing of the past.   I don’t have let my past rule me.   It’s done with, and whatever is happening now, or could happen tomorrow, is where my focus needs to be.   That’s where Jesus is focused:  right now so that tomorrow can be better.  The meal of holy communion was instituted as part of the traditional meal of the seder.  We celebrate both in today’s world, and both are for the glory of God, yet only one carries the true body and blood of Jesus.  But whether it’s bread and wine, steak and shrimp, or $1000 Beluga on those fishy little crisps of toast, do it to the glory of God.   Remember, it’s just a meal when it isn’t.

And wish Pastor Will a happy birthday today; it’s his birthday.  In doing so, thank him for the reminder that we don’t always have to be right.

For further reading:  Hebrews 10:1, Leviticus 11:2-23, Numbers 6:3, Colossians 2:16, Leviticus 1:1, Hebrews 7:16

Lord, thank You for the new covenant that supersedes the old covenants.   Thank You for using things I can understand to teach about Your higher meanings.